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Deus Ex: Human Revolution (PlayStation 3) artwork

Deus Ex: Human Revolution (PlayStation 3) review

"You are Adam Jensen, a retired police-man now in the employ of Detroit's largest corporation. Your previous effort in Detroit PD has enlightened you to the ways of the world. But also letting you see that as head of security of Sarif Industries, you are more free to help the town and investigate crimes than as a police-officer. Your method is still that of a good cop, however. Always preferring a non-violent and indirect approach. But it is difficult to convince Adam Jensen to look the other way..."

You are Adam Jensen, a retired police-man now in the employ of Detroit's largest corporation. Your previous effort in Detroit PD has enlightened you to the ways of the world. But also letting you see that as head of security of Sarif Industries, you are more free to help the town and investigate crimes than as a police-officer. Your method is still that of a good cop, however. Always preferring a non-violent and indirect approach. But it is difficult to convince Adam Jensen to look the other way when that would be convenient.

Then again, you are also Adam Jensen, ex-SWAT member, involved in a standoff that cost the lives of several innocent people, among them a 15 year old boy. This led to your retirement from the police-force. The methods you employ are forceful and about as subtle as a tank rolling through a market district. Your personality will be confrontational and terse, but you do get the job done.

Of course, you are also Adam Jensen, dirty cop. You retired from the police-force and found a job in the private sector because it paid better. And you use your newfound independence to your advantage. Your methods are always adaptive - open for opportunities, but morally corrupt. The only line you will not cross is the one imposed by your employer - at least when they are looking your way.

Unfortunately for Adam, all three personalities are contained within the same trenchcoat, and often struggle for domination. In a sense this is not really a problem, though. The first hour of the game will let you establish which type of personality you are the closest to. And the game always will give you opportunities to reinforce the one you chose - “your own” personality. Do you take Megan's mother up on her request - as a close “friend” of Megan's - to find out what happened to her? For closure on your own part as well? Or have you put this part of your life behind you, and have no interest in the quest? Does your “Mother-in-law” deserve a punch to the face for being so assertive? Either can be a perfectly valid choice depending on what you feel, even though you expect the game will force you to take the quest.

But the game also allows you to betray your standards without penalty or reaction at any point. This goes beyond merely choosing a violent or non-violent approach. If you suddenly choose to become a corrupt cop for no reason, the game will allow you to do so without anyone ever commenting on it outside the current quest. Whether you wade through a sea of dead bodies to reach your objective, or spend an hour extra mapping the routes of the soldiers, before using the cloak at a critical point to slip through to the next area undetected - this doesn't matter for the overall flow of the mission. The curious thing here is that the game sometimes does comment on your behavior, specially during and after the first mission. After this segment, however - after you are supposed to have established your “personality” - these challenges to your actions disappear very quickly.

Honestly, I expected something similar to the fairly simple formula in the original Deus Ex, where depending on your methods and approach, you end up in a conflict with at least one of the personalities that survey you. But choosing that approach would involve optional areas and branching between quests, and modern games don't do that (with the exception of Alpha Protocol and Heavy Rain). So Deus Ex: Human Revolution has a fundamental approach that treats each critical scenario as one self-contained hub. When the game breaks from this, we are treated to one hundred percent optional sub-quests that spawn from something you did in the previous scenario.

For example, there is an option during the first mission (a hostage crisis), where Jensen can let the “leader” of the operation escape. To convince him to escape successfully, you must choose the right approach between the different dialogue choices (“rationalize, confront, accuse, absolve”). And then later, a mysterious secret source will request a meeting, where they offer you inside information.

If you shot the terrorist-leader (or he ends up getting himself shot) in the first scenario, that quest won't turn up. If you stunned him, and he would get arrested, this side-quest also doesn't happen. There is also an event during a later mission where the terrorist leader may or may not turn up depending on your choices during this and the later mission. In other words, for all the intrigue between the factions and the powers, the game-world events all take place in isolated and independent pockets. Even to the point where a boss (“extrapolate, absolve, reason”) isn't aware of that you just executed his brother less than three minutes ago when you entered uninvited through the window upstairs.

Fortunately, the scripted scenarios themselves are very well written. Specially when the sequences move between gameplay to scripted camera-work and dialogue - or more accurately, debate - the game is interesting. Not just because of the writing and the visual cues you receive that clue you in on the thinking of the other characters, but because of the options you can choose along the way. And the independent mission-hubs branch while you go through them. This means that the outcome of the missions will typically be different depending on which personality arch-type you are. And that is a success, because it gives the game an illusion of responding to your actions.

Unfortunately, this approach fell flat during the boss-encounters. There is always one option to “solve” the boss-fight without simply firing your gun a lot if you picked the right augmentation (note: no clue is given to what this augmentation might be ahead of the fight). But in the end, the game expect you to kill your enemies indiscriminately.

It turns out that the boss-fights will happen this way:

The problem with this part of the game is that up till now, for all the gating and scripting, the game allows you to create your own story while you fill in the gaps. For example, I had decided by the first boss-fight that my girlfriend, Megan, was dead. And that there was nothing I could do about that. In fact, I had no motivation to kill the first boss, because he - like me - was a mercenary when the operation took place. And I am not certain what his involvement in the Sarif hit was. I am already given the opportunity to argue for ending this part of my life in the plot. Never mind that you can also choose a mercenary attitude that leave both of you at a professional distance.

But you are, in the end, forced to kill the first boss with a direct approach. And that event leads you, by the flimsiest shred of plot, over to the next set of well-written quest-hubs again.

This process is repeated three times, and becomes no less irritating each time. And I end up wishing that the boss-fights had been skipped, and simply replaced with the confrontations with the main personalities that take place at the end of each “chapter”.

But inside the quest-hubs and the largely independent missions, the game allows you a very high amount of opportunities to shape your own character and approach to solving the missions. So does the dialogue, or discussion and debate sequences, in that they reveal the plot as you attempt to discover it. And the flow in those discussions are affected by the approach you choose and feel most aligned with (even though all of the personalities are contained in the same trenchcoat).

But here the writing is ambiguous enough to allow Jensen to bite his tongue and choose the “correct” approach, just as he is capable of bursting out a less thought-through accusation. This is fairly well written, and a good combination of coding and writing. They could all have been cutscenes, but this is a much more effective approach. In that the game lets your own “Jensen personality” persist, even when the game enters “critical stages” that should be pre-determined. That story-telling ambiguity is part of what made the original Deus Ex such a good game as well, and it is also successful in Human Revolution.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution was made by Eidos Montreal, apparently with some advice from the original Austin Branch of Ion Storm. The game is a prequel to Deus Ex and Invisible War (the sequel), and feature the small beginnings of Sarif Industries as they move towards discovery of nano-augmentation technology. And the ability to not merely use technology as a prothesis, but to shape humanity at will. But for the time being, the debate will be between how technology will be used in the current world - and if it will perhaps not solve yet, but only change humankind's challenges into different ones.

Also feel free to read my review-augmentation and tech-overview elsewhere on the site.

fleinn's avatar
Community review by fleinn (October 10, 2011)

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